Artist of the Month: Sheary Clough Suiter

Fences (encaustic, 8×8) by Sheary Clough Suiter was a Experimental finalist in the 24th Annual Art Competition. Suiter is our November 2008 Artist of the Month.

Residence: Anchorage, Alaska


Start in art: The creative spirit is in my genes. My mother painted landscapes in oils, my father is a home designer, my aunt was a set designer and screen printer, and my grandfather was a wood carver and writer.

After becoming a dental hygienist in my native state of Oregon, I headed up the Alcan Highway to Alaska. I spent the next decade in bush Alaska, devoting summers to managing a remote sport fishing lodge and air taxi service, and the long dark winters to writing. I enrolled in an elective class in drawing while working on my MFA in creative writing. Soon after my daughter was born, I switched from writing to visual art as my creative outlet.

I subsequently studied with contemporary artists such as Katherine Chang Liu, Gerald Brommer, Christopher Schink, Mary Todd Beam, Skip Lawrence, Stephen Quiller, Michael Schlicting and Pat San Soucie. Living in such a remote part of the country, if not for the fact that Alaska Watercolor Society brought these fine painters to our corner of the world, it’s certain I couldn’t have afforded to travel to such workshops in the Lower 48.

I share a rented warehouse space with two other painters. Largely due to the support and encouragement we provide as comrades in the struggle to make good paintings, I began painting daily and that dedication to my work has paid off. Three art galleries currently represent my work. I supplement my art income with my trip-planning company, Sport Fishing Alaska, which I operate from my home office, allowing a great deal of flexibility with my work schedule. I typically spend mornings in my office, afternoons in my art studio, and evenings at home with my 14-year-old daughter, Lauren.

Media and genres: I’m a mixed media artist, frequently utilizing texture and collage elements in my paintings. Although acrylic remains my primary media, for the past four years, I have also been exploring the ancient medium of encaustics. I’m drawn to encaustic by the medium’s luminosity and permanence of color, its capacity to be layered and sculpted, and for the sensual nature of the warm, aromatic beeswax, which permeates my studio during the painting process.

For many years, my style incorporated semi-abstract architectural and figurative elements. The images came from inner feelings and emotions, rather than depicting the external world. The style of my encaustic paintings remains primarily abstract. The medium itself encourages playfulness and exploration of color and shape.

Two years ago, my studio mates and I began hosting live model drawing sessions, which resulted in my current expressionistic figurative style. Since the discovery that I’m able to paint from either internal or external sources, my range of style has grown and my personal enjoyment in the painting process increased exponentially.

Inspiration and process: Fences was both an exploration of technique and an expression of personal transitions in my life at the time the work was created in 2006.

Creating defined edges in encaustics is a challenge and thus artists working in this media are often experimenting with various methods to achieve line and edge. The figure on the left utilizes a technique whereby the shape is embedded in the surrounding wax by first building up the image, covering it completely with wax of a different color, then using a razor blade held at 90 degree angle to scrape back down to reveal the embedded image. After the final step of fusing with the heat gun, this process creates a wonderfully smooth glossy encaustic surface. However the final fusing can sometimes cause the tangent colors to bleed into each other a little.

The figure on the right side of the painting is a raised shape, created by first “drawing” an outline into several previously fused layers of wax with a clay stylus tool. The outline is fused, then wax is brushed onto the inside shape, fused, repeatedly alternating with further carving away of the excess wax that melts into the outlined perimeter, leaving a very definite edge.

The concept of the painting, as expressed in its title, Fences, considers how and when personal relationships endure change, which can result in fences between people who were once “on the same side of the fence.” Excising the wax with a wood carving tool and then filling with a different color of wax formed some of the fence lines. Other parts of the fence are thin pieces of wire, collaged into the wax surface.

Without any conscious preplanning or thinking about the concept of this piece, my subconscious was working out emotions I was experiencing about interpersonal relationships at the time. The lines I later realized were fences at the time were simply compositional elements to balance the strong verticals of the two figures.

Why she creates art: Art is the one endeavor and pursuit with which I’ve never become bored or saturated. Painting is a constant process of discovery. The people I interact with, both collectors and other artists, have enhanced the quality of my life to the point where I can’t imagine life without them.

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